Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 33:2 (Spring 2013).
Timothy Dwight Hobart, general manager of the JA Ranch in northwestern Texas, had a problem on his hands. Trying to sell his cattle in 1918, he had helped transport hundreds of head of cattle within the ranch. However, J. W. Kent, who was with the JA Ranch for a substantial portion of its history to date, noticed that the cattle were not feeling well. Anthrax had poisoned the cattle, and it was spreading quickly. “We are burning the carcasses,” Hobart wrote, “and not leaving a stone unturned to stamp out the disease.” What was he to do?
In this study I discuss and analyze correspondence from the JA Ranch in a larger context, especially concerning drought and its effects on cattle and some land sales. Although many historians believe cattle sales plummeted only after World War I, it can also be argued that even before the 1918 armistice, droughts and their related effects had a mixed effect on cattle prices. The droughts that struck the Texas Panhandle were nothing new, but they increased dependence on cottonseed cake, the prices of which significantly increased. In response, cattle consumed loco weed, the effects of which were not unlike toxic milkweed. However, some cattle sales continued uninterrupted. In the following years, the droughts had major consequences in the context of smaller-scale ranch development and of World War I. In this essay I present a short history of the JA Ranch prior to 1915 and then examine the 1915–16 and 1917 droughts and their effects on cattle sales, including the droughts’ effects on land sales. Finally, I explain this story’s connection to the larger historiographical context of the Great Plains.